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Lake County Jail inmates collected jobless pay

Updated: December 10, 2012 1:57AM

In what state officials are calling a pioneering move, the state agency in charge of unemployment checks cross checked names with jailed or imprisoned inmates and found more than 1,000 inmates getting benefits, including 16 in Lake County.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security announced Wednesday that 1,100 individuals face possible prosecution and must repay nearly $2 million in wrongfully paid unemployment benefits, although some of the inmates may not have known that someone was continuing to certify for benefits on their behalf.

“The inmate cross-matching initiative is another important step in rooting out waste, fraud and abuse,” said Jay Rowell, director of the IDES.

Lake County was listed as having 20 offenders and a total of $76,017 being paid out to inmates, who are ineligible for unemployment benefits because one stipulation is an individual must be available to work. Greg Rivera, IDES spokesman, said of the 20, four were stopped before they could receive any payments.

He said another six to eight were stopped after one payment. The largest payout in Lake County was $18,722 and the next highest was $8,496. The smallest was $57.

The largest statewide payment was just short of $43,000 to a Cook County inmate. The most an inmate could collect is 99 weeks of unemployment.

The cross-checking program began in July and the IDES hired an outside contractor for $25,000 to compile the list of inmate names; then the office matched them to those receiving benefits from the IDES. Director Rowell said the money for unemployment comes from state businesses.

The IDES will seek repayment of the money and garnish federal and state tax returns if necessary. They will also prohibit those individuals from collecting future unemployment benefits as long as the debt is outstanding. Some of the cases will also be recommended for prosecution.

Rivera explained that not all the cases would necessarily be prosecuted because of costs, and they filtered out cases where someone may have spent a weekend in jail and then was released, but appeared on the cross-check list.

Rowell said it was unlikely that jail officials and local prosecutors could have prevented the wrongful payments. The IDES only makes payments to a bank account or debit card. Inmates could not have had payments sent to the commissary where they can buy items.

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said the program was a good thing. “I commend them for doing this,” he said.

He added that he was glad “Gov. Quinn is waking up to that fact that people are tapping into a pool for legitimate people.”

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